Tuesday, June 28 2022

JACI WEBB For the Gazette

There’s nothing quite like the blowing of a bagpipe, a familiar sound at St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. But bagpipes are not Irish at all. It’s not even originally Scottish.

The bagpipe, which has been around for centuries, traces its origins either to the Egyptians or even further back to the Babylonians, according to local bagpiper Donell Small.

But it was the Scots who first fully embraced the bagpipe as a national symbol and sound. He was a Scottish coal miner – Bill Flockhart – who lived at Red Lodge and brought the pipes to Billings, with the help of Peter Matheson, a piper who had served in World War I and immigrated to eastern Montana where he worked as a breeder.






The Billings Caledonian Pipes and Drums parade as the Friends of Yellowstone Veterans National Cemetery held a Memorial Day ceremony in Laurel in 2021.


LARRY MAYER, Billings Gazette


Flockhart and Matheson were instrumental in establishing a pipe band, and in 1963 the Caledonian Pipes & Drums of Billings was born.

On Saturday March 12, and again on St. Patrick’s Day March 17, Caledonians will shine their ghillie shoes and iron their kilts to parade through the streets and Billings and Laurel, pub to pub, showcasing the dirges and jigs they practice all year round.

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Maureen Wallace, one of three bagpipers in the Billings Band, said it was her favorite time of year.

“It’s like Christmas,” Wallace said.

Small was originally drawn to the sound of bagpipes due to its unique and haunting sound.

“You love it or you hate it,” Small said.

Learning to play the bagpipes takes practice and commitment.

“A lot of people say it’s the hardest instrument to learn,” Small said. “I’ve seen people who are accomplished musicians come in and get frustrated because it’s so difficult. You don’t even learn to play the bagpipes until you’ve spent six months on the practice cantor.

Billings’ colorful former mayor Willard Fraser was a singer himself in the late 1960s, and pipers played at his funeral in 1972, the same year they performed at Flockhart’s funeral.

The band practices year-round, meeting Wednesday nights in the West High School Music Room. Newcomers are always welcome and classes are free.







Caledonian bagpipes and drums

Members of the Billings Caledonian Pipes & Drums perform for employees of the Billings Clinic as part of the 8 p.m. Nightly Howl for Billings at the Billings Clinic Healing Garden in Billings on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.


MIKE CLARK, Billings Gazette


Pipers and drummers are raising funds and polishing their performance to compete in the Highland Games in Las Vegas on April 9-10. Their next step is to compete in Scotland.

“It’s huge for us,” said band manager Allan Anderson. “One of the reasons to go is to learn how to be a better pipe band. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves; we represent Montana and we want to do our best.

Anderson joined the band as a drummer 17 years ago, a vital part of the rhythm section. The 30-member Billings Caledonians have opened for several touring bands at their Billings stops, including the Irish Rovers, Gaelic Storm and Rod Stewart. They also perform in the area’s 4th of July parades and at Robert Burns parties in Miles City and Cody, Wyo. Miles City Burns Night is particularly popular, attracting up to 800 people who gather to recite poetry and eat haggis, which is made from the heart and liver of mutton mixed with spices and traditionally cooked in a stomach. ‘animal.

Unsurprisingly, Small said sometimes these celebrations get crazy.

“A few years ago a woman came to ask us to play the ‘Highland Fling’ during the Pub Crawl. She ended up dancing at Doc Harper’s bar.







Caledonian bagpipes and drums

The Caledonian Pipes and Drums of Billings posed for a photo recently.


Jaci Webb, For the Gazette


Playing for four or five hours as they go through several pubs makes for a fun and grueling night.

“You lose your lips after a while,” Small said.

The Billings Caledonian Pipes and Drums will be part of the Billings St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celtic Fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 10. The parade begins at 11 a.m., followed by the Celtic fair and beer garden on North Broadway. .

Caledonians will spend the afternoon and evening touring Billings and Laurel. The schedule is as follows: 1 p.m. at Just 1 More Bar and Casino; 3 p.m. Canyon Creek Brewing; 4:30 p.m. High Plains Brewing in Laurel; 6 p.m. Diamond X Brewing Company in Billings; 7:30 p.m. 406 Kitchen and faucet room; and 8:30 p.m. Montana Brewing Company/Hooligans in downtown Billings.

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